Suresh Doss

Freshly-made burek pastries in North York are a crunchy, salty, creamy journey to the Balkans

Metro Morning food guide Suresh Doss heads to North York for freshly-baked burek, a can't-miss Balkan phyllo pastry.

Mak European Delicatessens is at 1335 Lawrence Avenue East in North York

Golden brown and stuffed with fillings like cheese, meat, or potatoes, the recipe for burek has been handed down through generations. (Suresh Doss/CBC)

Mak European Delicatessens is more than just a grocery store.

Nestled on the side of a nondescript plaza off the Don Valley Parkway, the shop serves as a community hub for Canadian immigrants that culturally identify as Balkan.

Coming from the area of southeastern Europe cradled by the Balkan Mountains, from places like Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia, Montenegro, Croatia, Serbia and Slovenia, people make the trek to Mak Deli for a taste of home. 

Burek is a large stuffed pastry from Eastern Europe that's reminiscent of the layers of croissants, says Metro Morning food guide Suresh Doss. 1:22

For the 15 years since the store opened, they've come for smoked schinkenspeck, tubs of fresh cheese, and bottles of ajvar, a bright red spread made of garlicky red peppers.

"When my parents opened this place, there were very few stores of its kind," said Nadja Makota, now a co-owner of the deli. "This is a taste of the Balkans. People come from various parts of the GTA because here they feel like it's back home."

Nadja Makota, a co-owner of Mak Deli, says the shop has been a magnet for immigrants from the Balkans since it opened. (Suresh Doss/CBC)

Growing up, I remember regularly driving by the brightly-lit sign out front, but it wasn't until about a decade ago that I stepped inside.

I was introduced to three food items that day that to this day are still regular fixtures in my fridge: freshly made feta cheese with a soft and zippy tang, intoxicating logs of smoked beef that taste lighter and softer than beef jerky, and addictive bottles of ajvar.

Ripping into freshly-baked pastry

It took a few visits before I could muster up the courage to visit the back of the grocery store, converted into a tiny restaurant with seating for about a dozen people.

On offer is a tight menu of Balkan favourites like cevapi, tiny cylinders of marinated grilled meat served in a pita with unripened cheese, pljeskavica, a grilled patty of meat served steak-style, and smoked veal sausages called sudjukice.

It's back there that you'll find freshly-baked burek, a large stuffed pastry reminiscent of the layers of croissants, baked to form a thin crust.

Two employees at Mak Deli spend their days rolling out and filling dough for fresh, savoury burek. (Suresh Doss/CBC)

Burek can be stuffed with ground beef, cheese, cheese and potato, or spinach, and it's traditionally served with a healthy serving of yogurt.

You eat it with your hands, ripping up the cylinders of burek and dipping it in the yogurt. The entire experience is a journey of phyllo pastry crunch, salty cheese, and creamy yogurt.

She employs two women who make it daily, rolling and stuffing the phyllo dough using a recipe that has been handed down through generations of her family. 

"This is how my mother used to make burek back home, she learnt it from her mother," she said. "My goal is to try and preserve this for as long as I can here in Canada."

Mak European Delicatessens is at 1335 Lawrence Ave. E. in North York 

Suresh Doss's weekly food segment airs every Thursday on Metro Morning. Watch for video of his jaunts across the city on CBC Toronto's Facebook page.

Do you know a GTA restaurant that Doss should visit? Tweet us @metromorning or send us a message on Facebook. And if you try any of the places he features, we want to see photos!